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The Henley & Partners Visa Restrictions Index 2017

30 June 2017

A German passport is still the top passport to have, according to the latest edition of The Henley & Partners Visa Restrictions Index. With a German passport, travelers can gain entry to 176 countries without having to apply for a visa — a considerable convenience and time-saving benefit. This is the second year that Germany tops the ranks.

The 12th edition of The Henley & Partners Visa Restrictions Index was launched in March 2017. The Index is an annual ranking of over 100 countries and indicates the extent to which their citizens enjoy visa-free travel. The Index is produced in partnership with the International Air Transport Association (IATA), which maintains the world’s largest and most authoritative database of travel information and provides insight into the development of visa policies, allowing a better understanding of mobility on a global scale.

Sweden remains in second place with 175 countries, while Denmark, Finland, Italy, Spain and the US jointly rank third, with their citizens enjoying visa-free entry to 174 countries. The UK, however, has slipped down yet another position this year to fourth, having shared first place with Germany for three consecutive years (from 2013–2015). Since the inception of the Index the UK has maintained a ‘Top 10’ ranking but its placing has seen a steady decline.

Dr. Christian H. Kälin, Chairman of Henley & Partners, says that although the size and make-up of the 'Top 10' remains the same as last year, the changing geopolitical climate could well affect the rankings over the next 12 months. “We have witnessed several major events recently that are likely to have an impact on global mobility — including the official triggering of Brexit (Britain’s exit from the EU) and US President Donald Trump’s policy changes. Both can be interpreted as steps toward restricting movement and creating barriers to entry. This trend towards curbing travel freedom is already apparent in the shift in rankings on this year’s Visa Restrictions Index,” explains Dr. Kälin, a leading authority on international immigration and citizenship law and policy.

At the bottom end of the Index sit Syria, Pakistan, Iraq and Afghanistan, each with visa-free access to fewer than 30 countries worldwide. This shows a slight change from 2016’s ranking, with Somalia rising out of the bottom four and now having access to 30 countries, and Syria dropping into the bottom ranks with only 29. In total, 48 countries lost ground over the past year, and 42 countries (including Japan, Thailand, Egypt and Vietnam) showed no movement at all.

The biggest movers in this year’s Index were Peru and Ghana. Peru was the highest individual mover, gaining 15 places. Island nations also made a strong showing, with the Marshall Islands, the Solomon Islands, Micronesia, Kiribati and Tuvalu all gaining over nine places. In contrast, Ghana showed the most negative movement, dropping four places in one year to 73rd position.

“There is still huge disparity in the levels of travel freedom between countries, despite the world becoming seemingly more mobile and interdependent. Generally, visa requirements are a reflection of a country’s relationship with others and take into account diplomatic relationships between countries, reciprocal visa arrangements, security risks, and the dangers of visa- and immigration-regulation violations,” explains Dr. Kälin.

The fortunes of the emerging economies of the BRICS nations were varied this year. Brazil and China both increased their standing on the Index, moving up three and two ranks respectively. However, the other three all lost ground, with Russia dropping three places, India two, and South Africa one.

Since 2007 Africa has suffered the most dramatic decline in travel freedom, with African countries accounting for 16 of the 20 biggest fallers. Sierra Leone, in particular, has shown the largest decline by a single country, having lost 29 ranks on the Index in this timeframe.

Citizenship-by-Investment Programs

In contrast to 12 years ago when the Henley & Partners Visa Restrictions Index was first published, there is now an increased number of residence- and citizenship-by-investment programs available for those who wish to enhance their travel freedom. More and more governments are embracing these programs as a means of stimulating economic development and growth, and there is an increasing number of wealthy and talented individuals looking to diversify their citizenship portfolios to give themselves and their families greater international opportunity, stability, freedom and security.

Dr. Kälin points out that the countries that offer the most important citizenship-by-investment programs in the world continue to perform strongly on the Index. “Malta offers the top-ranked investment migration program globally and scores very highly, with the world’s 10th most powerful passport and visa-free access to 167 countries. Austria is also in the ‘Top 10’ with a total of 173 countries and Cyprus is not far behind at 16th place with 158 countries accessible without a visa.”

Likewise, countries that offer citizenship-by-investment programs in the Caribbean have performed well. Grenada is ranked at 37th place and offers successful applicants visa-free access to 124 countries including China, Europe’s Schengen area, Singapore, Brazil, and other key markets. Antigua and Barbuda, and St. Kitts and Nevis share 30th place on the Index this year with visa-free access to 136 countries, while St. Lucia offers its citizens access to 127 countries worldwide and is ranked 36th.